When they finally get back to Earth, Eli leaves. He just leaves. He goes to his house, spends a night eating real, actual food and telling his mom nothing, then he throws things in a bag and takes off.
The plane freaks him out a little bit. But there's a window, and beyond that, clouds, and below that, ground, and it's all familiar-feeling, even if it isn't familiar-looking, and he feels better. He chose London at random, it was the soonest departing flight he could get on. It doesn't really matter where he is, just as long as he's away.
Eli didn't really think of himself as the type to hire himself a hooker, but the guy who slides him the website address scribbled on a napkin at the first pub he wanders into is wearing a suit and doesn't seem like a creep. Eli had thought he wanted to be alone, because spending all that time crammed in with a lot of angry people promoted a mild sense of claustrophobia. But being alone was horrifying in its own way, because there was nothing to distract him from the cacophony of his own thoughts. Nothing drowned that out quite like the voice of someone else, anyone else.
He and the man in the suit had been talking about how hard it is to find romance on the road. There's a lot to be said about companionship, which is why he's talking to a strange man in a strange pub in the first place.
He can't quite bring himself to talk to any of the women he meets. It's been too long. He can't imagine what he'd say. In the end, he has some hush money and time to kill, and it doesn't hurt to look, right?
He goes to his hotel and looks her up. The site says her name is Belle. It's pretty. She's pretty. Underneath the business makeup (he wants to call it 'whore makeup' but that's a little too literal), she's the sort of girl he'd really like. Actually, if he squints, she sort of reminds him of that girl from Doctor Who. Which is kind of appropriate, since he's crash-landed in England after a long, ridiculous trip in space. When he calls for the appointment, Belle sounds sort of sweet and very professional all at once. Eli offers to come to her, because he can't really stand staying in any one place too long. Belle gives him a street address and an apartment number to ring. He's a little nervous, but everything has gone okay so far, and then he falters when she asks for a name.
"Matt," he says, after too long a pause that she can probably see right through. "Matthew Scott."
Her couch is nice, and it faces away from the view of London. Just as well, he's tired of looking at things from a distance. The light streams over his shoulders: natural sunlight. He closes his eyes for a minute, just sort of basking in it. It's as though he's solar powering himself.
"So, what would you like us to do here?" Belle asks pleasantly, her voice cutting into the nothing of his thoughts. When he glances at her, she's looking like she's trying not to be worried. His behavior is probably very worrying.
"I don't know. I've never... I haven't done this before."
"That's all right. I get plenty of first-timers," she says, with an incredibly toothy grin. "Well, is there anything you've always wanted to try?"
Things he'd like to try? Eli had forced himself to stop thinking about sex for so long he doesn't even remember what he likes, much less things he'd never tried. He'd like to go to bed with a girl without wondering if she'll laugh at him. He wants to stop thinking about Chloe sending Matt all those doe-eyed looks. He wants to not remember how unbelievably lonely it could be, even on a ship with thirty-something other people that he was forced to see day after day.
"Just... I don't know, just regular stuff," he says. "Sorry. I'm nervous. It's been awhile."
"Don't worry, I can take the helm if you're nervous." Belle is very nice and it seems genuine.
Eli relaxes a little bit, and as he does so, his mouth relaxes, too, letting loose a stream of words. "I had to travel a lot," he says, "for work. I haven't had any time in the past year to even really talk to a person, you know, much less do... well."
Belle decides to run with this train of thought. "You travel? Is this your first time to London, then?"
"Yep, first time."
"So where have you been traveling, Mr. Scott, that you haven't made your way to my little city until now?"
Eli honestly doesn't know which jars him more, Belle calling him Mr. Scott, or the fact that she used Mister. Of course, he hasn't had any military training, why would she even think of referring to a rank he doesn't have? "Matthew," he corrects anxiously. (Not Matt. She called him Matt.) "I've, uh, been to some pretty exotic places. I work... I worked... for the government, and they just kind of sent me wherever."
He waits, tense again, for her to ask more about these exotic locales that he can't talk about, but Belle just leans forward a bit with a sympathetic expression. "That sounds lonely."
Eli lets out a long breath. "Yeah."
"Well." Belle flashes him another bright smile. "Let's see if we can do something about that, shall we?"
Eli can't go through with it. Belle is beautiful. Not moreso than Chloe, but in a different way. And the second Chloe flits across his mind, even half a thought, he just can't do it. It's just sex, he tells himself, or rather, something a little south of his waist tells him, because it's not as though he doesn't want to. He knows this will likely help. The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, and all that. (That sounds kind of like something Lt. Scott would say, so at least he's getting into the role.)
But... "I can't," he says, pulling away from Belle's full lips, hating himself. And maybe her a little bit.
Her face droops in disappointment for half a second, then she grins at him again. He's never seen anyone smile so much. He used to paste on a smile a lot, trying to be the jolly fat man they assumed him to be. You make one wisecrack and it sticks with you forever. Normally, Eli really is that sarcastic almost-jackass, but then it became expected of him, and he wasn't allowed to be serious, ever. He looks at Belle and wonders if she's ever serious, or if she's always just... this.
"That's okay. We can take it slow."
"It's not that," he says. "I just... can't. It's hard to explain."
"There's nothing I haven't heard before, I promise you," she says.
"I'm in love with someone."
"And this would upset her?" He wonders if that matters. Belle probably gets cheating husbands all the time.
"She wouldn't care," he admits, and it stings. At worst, Chloe would be disappointed, maybe even disgusted, to learn that he was with a hooker. But ultimately, she wouldn't care because it wouldn't affect her at all.
"Ah. She doesn't know you exist?"
"Worse. She's in love with someone else. A friend of mine. Someone we work with. I just had to get away from all that. For some reason, I thought this would help."
Belle tries to keep her expression neutral, or whatever the 'understanding prostitute' equivalent of neutral is, but he can see the flash for a second: she really has heard this story before. He is not the first person to whom this is happened. Nor will he be the last. Hell, knowing Eli, this is not going to be the only time something like this happens to him.
There's a long moment of silence where she's waiting for him to say something, but he can't manage. That's all there is to the story he can tell, before some men in black whisk them both off to rot in a mountain cell or whatever. So he just says nothing. He's supposed to be Lt. Matthew Scott, anyway, and Scott is the strong, silent, military type.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Eli tries to think like the real Scott. What would he do in this scenario? Sleep with Belle, of course. He probably wouldn't even think about it. But Scott's the kind of guy who gets the girl so effortlessly, and doesn't even care, and here's Eli with a woman who is literally being paid to like him, and he can't go through with it.
"Would it make a difference?" he said, more to himself than to her. "There's nothing I can do here that will ever repair it. She's still going to be in love with him. I can't change that. This won't change that."
"I can make you forget everything," offers Belle, in the softest of voices.
Eli doesn't doubt for a second that Belle is more than capable of erasing his memory in the short-term, more effectively than any alien device he's ever touched. But when he closes his eyes, even for a second, he sees Chloe's smile. All right, so it's never going to be meant for him. But how quickly would it disappear if she found out he'd slept with a prostitute? Eli's watched enough movies and TV to know that no matter how much he wants to pretend it didn't happen, she'll find out. Everything catches up with you eventually.
When it comes down to it, Eli is not Lt. Scott. And he can't do this. It doesn't matter the reason. He just can't.
"I don't think it's something I can easily forget," he admits.
After a long moment, Belle cuddles up next to him, her head on his shoulder, her arm around his stomach. There's nothing even remotely sexual about it. It's just a sweet and affectionate gesture. A hug from a pretty girl that can go anywhere he wants it to, on his say-so. It's a perfect solution.
It's been a long time coming.
In her profession, Hannah has heard every sort of excuse as to why one would seek her services. He's too busy to find a girlfriend. His wife is a nag, or won't listen to him, or is too X or too Y. He never quite figured out how to work the dating scene. He's lonely. There are some of them that don't say it, but she can sort of tell they're thinking it: he thinks he'll never find a woman left to his own devices. There's a sadness to these men that does not go unnoticed.
Matthew Scott had that sadness. Most men weren't so keen on giving their full names; in any case, Hannah has never asked. He certainly seemed ill at ease every time she used it. It was probably fake. That she was a little more used to. The need to hide from everything. That was universal. One of the things Hannah liked about her profession was that even if the man lied, the sex was usually honest. Relationship sex, in her limited experience, was about pleasing another person, to the point of denying yourself. But if you paid top dollar for something, you generally wanted it to be exactly as you dreamed, the sort of things you'd never admit in a relationship. So you couldn't lie, not about that.
Hannah usually thinks herself a decent judge of character; she finds that people are rarely more complicated than they seemed. Matthew Scott might have been. When he'd first come to her door, she'd taken in his sad eyes and over-sized shirt and thought he'd fall into the group of men who couldn't quite manage the dating thing and just needed a night of release to prove that everything still worked. Part of that might still have been true, but in the end, all he really seemed to need was a night of companionship, a sense of normalcy to balance out what seemed to be a needlessly chaotic life. It occurs to Hannah that she needs a sort of chaos to save herself from something humdrum. Everybody needs something.
He excuses himself to the loo and then shambles to the door, his small, ratty travel bag in hand. He looks embarrassed. Normally the ones who have sex with her are the ones that look embarrassed, if anyone. They can't quite admit their life has come to this; a notion which Hannah once found mildly insulting, but has come to accept. "Thank you," he says with a half-stammer, and Hannah smiles and escorts him out. She's reasonably certain she gave him what he wanted. It was hard to tell, as he didn't himself seem sure. She tried, though, and she doesn't feel like she's cheated him out of his money, which is important.
Not long after he leaves, when she's determined she's client-free for the rest of the afternoon, she makes the executive decision to clean her lavatory. It's a mish-mash of bottles and brushes, all the instruments you'd expect to find in the care of a busy working girl. And that's not even counting her linen hamper, which is stuffed to the brim with flimsy teddies, sheer robes, and scraps of lace that cost far too much considering how little there is. She starts to pull them out and sort them for the wash, feeling oddly comforted by the task. It's normal and necessary, a soothing ritual.
The t-shirt, balled and wedged haphazardly between a bustier and a thong, is not hers. She's rarely if ever a t-shirt girl, and in either case, she does not recognize the wrinkled red garment. It's emblazoned with the phrase 'YOU ARE HERE' in white block letters. From the size, it looks like it could belong to one Matthew Scott. She puts together the last few minutes of his visit, recalling his hasty visit here. Did he have his bag with him at the time?
You are here. A nice sentiment for someone who moves around a lot and doesn't have any real connections. It's an anchor. He doesn't always know where he's supposed to be, but he always knows where he is. It's a very interesting point of view.
Hannah moves to toss the shirt out, then pauses and puts it next to the machine-washables. What is it doing in her hamper in the first place? Did he confuse it with the trash bin? Perhaps. It was pushed too far down, almost hidden, for that to be true. But the more pressing question is, why would he be disposing of a t-shirt in the first place? Hannah examines it again: worn and faded, but not ripped or stained. It looks remarkably well-maintained, despite its age. He didn't wear it in here.
Mr. Scott was hardly a unique client; if you did the job long enough, you noticed that people started to fall into patterns, even in the higher levels of kink. Hannah highly doubted she'd remember him in a month or so. But the shirt was a nice reminder of the gentle sadness that she saw so often. How people let their loneliness become fear and vice versa. It was a vastly depressing way to live: looking to the future and seeing no hope. Hannah has made it a point to never, ever do that.
She sets the shirt aside with the dirty laundry, to be cleaned and saved. She might use it as a sleep shirt, she thinks, and in enough time, she won't remember Mr. Scott at all, just remember a sad client who left a shirt behind. The saddest part of her day, illustrating the saddest part of her profession, is realizing it is easier to save the shirt than to save its owner.